Believe it or not, one editor and three reporters provide all the sports coverage for the Sun-Star.
One editor, three reporters, a lot of brainstorming, loads of contacts, and plain hard work.
"At times it seems as if we are on own little island," says James Burns, sports editor. Burns was recently promoted to managing editor as well -- which will make it even more hectic.
He also kept his sports editor duties.
Why do I call it a juggling act?
Well, consider: baseball, soccer, softball, basketball, golf, swimming, running, biking, wrestling, track and field -- with girls' versions of many.
Merced, Golden Valley, Buhach Colony, Atwater, Dos Palos, Le Grand, Chowchilla, Livingston, Merced College, UC Merced and even the Fresno State Bulldogs.
Atwater now has a summer collegiate baseball team, the Atwater Aviators.
Three reporters. One editor.
Until recently, the Sun-Star's sports section was a pull-out tabloid. Readers didn't all like the tab -- it had to be separated from the rest of the paper.
The tab was former sports editor Steve Cameron's idea. But Cameron is gone and Burns is definitely in charge.
What will Burns' legacy be?
Sure, Burns is a sports junkie without question, but he adds the "personal" touch to the sports pages. No, I don't mean his personal touch, but a "story within the story." He insists the story is about people playing sports, not just sports.
You won't see many play-by-play diaries or game chronologies. You will read compelling stories about the athletes. And the athletes will be mostly local.
Burns likes to ensure they personally cover big match-ups but still maintain balance.
Did I mention juggling?
That's just for written coverage. There are also photos to consider.
Sun-Star photographers are in short supply. There's usually but one on a shift with little overlap.
Sometimes, especially during the playoff season, the sports staff shoots its own art. According to Burns, "Photographers simply can't travel to Stockton, Lodi or Sacramento."
Burns has recently been shooting his own photographs -- and doing it very well.
Shawn Jansen claims "about 90 to 95 percent of requested photo requests are assigned."
Like reporters on the news side, sports reporters are assigned a beat.
Sean Lynch has the Merced College beat, Shawn Jansen has the high schools and Tom Price covers the copy desk.
Price also does the bulk of the layout work and coordinates phone traffic, which is extensive. Reporters cannot attend every event, so there is a huge list of contacts who call in scores and stories.
Price also did a great first-person story when he rode the March Amgen bike route around the Merced Courthouse.
He competed against some fearless 6 to 8-year-olds.
He also got lost.
Shawn Jansen is the veteran of the sports department with nearly 10 years at the paper. He's the reason they have the extensive contact list.
Coaches call in.
Spectators call in.
Opponents call in.
Other papers help cover our teams.
Jansen can't seem to go anywhere without folks shouting him out. He knows everyone -- reminds me of our Sheriff Mark Pazin.
Jansen says, "I enjoy covering the kids. I think Merced County has produced a lot of talented athletes in the time I've been here."
He is most familiar with baseball, football and basketball, but also likes covering good competitions in other sports.
"Some of the best events I've covered have been state wrestling meets or watching a pole-vaulter win a state championship. I enjoy big moments," he said.
His stories can also have a gut-wrenching flavor, such as his story about Jesse Rocco, a Golden Valley basketball player. (www.mercedsunstar.com/381/story/664786.html)
Did I say that Sean Lynch covered Merced College? Well, yes, but May and June also found him in Hilmar, Ripon, Buhach Colony, Dos Palos, Chowchilla and Sacramento. He gets around.
Like the others, his stories are as much about people as they are the competition.
The Merced College baseball team had its best season ever, until the Nor Cal playoffs. In just three biting sentences, Lynch laid it on the line, "The Merced College baseball team sat collectively on its bench wearing looks of pain and disbelief. Some Blue Devils allowed tears to flow freely while others sat in quiet contemplation. All stared off into the distance trying to come to grips with what had just happened."
Then there was the story about the Lady Devils Fab Five, all transferring to different four-year colleges. Not about sports, but about people.
Christopher Pedrettti, Merced College's head baseball coach, sums ups Lynch's abilities, "He does an outstanding job -- he's extremely accurate and knowledgeable. He has a real interest in the college's athletic program."
It truly is an amazing juggling act.
Tom Frazier writes Sun Dog and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.